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13th February 2013

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Hello Kitty by VIZ Media - Will Minimalism Save Comics?

Cover art to 'Hello Kitty: Fashion Music Wonderland' by Jacob Chabot, published by VIZ Media.

The world’s most adorable mascot is coming to comic book form.

VIZ Media, in its continued collaboration with Sanrio, announced it’s going to publish a series of original Hello Kitty graphic novels for 2013. One special limited-edition comic, Hello Kitty: Fashion Music Wonderland, will debut at San Diego Comic-Con 2013 while a main series called Hello Kitty: Here We Go! will be coming out in Fall 2013. 

To folks who follow VIZ Media, this is something VIZ has been building up for quite a while. The company has expressed interest in growing their VIZ Kids imprint for many reasons. What better way to help further grow the comics industry with a dose of minimalism. Yes, Hello Kitty is extremely cute and putting her face on any product makes everyone blush in delight. What makes Hello Kitty appealing is how Sanrio used a few aspects of minimalism to create a simple, yet addictive look.

One of comics’ biggest problems is it can be considered intimidating to get people into comics. You also have to add the fact the children are distracted by so much information these days. Reading is also becoming a dying art. The list goes on and on.

However, Hello Kitty’s minimalist advantage is that she can shaped in any way the user of one of her products sees fit. Her appearance in a comic book/graphic novel could signify a variety of emotions that children can relate to. Think of Hello Kitty as an educational avatar. This combined with her look provides a great incentive for young girls to read comics and get more involved in reading. Comic books are good for kids, you know.

Whether this can be as big as something like the U.S. shoujo manga movement back in the early-to-mid 2000s’ remains to be seen, but Hello Kitty is on a whole other level. If the series is pushed hard and takes off alongside the "My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic" comic book, the future will be extremely bright with much-needed diversity. Plus, cuteness REALLY sells among children and women. Especially CUTE animals.

Get ready to have your hearts filled with colorful pictures of mouth-less, yet creative cuteness. 


Tagged: VIZ MediaSanrioHello Kittycomic book industryVIZ Kidsgraphic novelsmanga news commentarycomic books are good for kidspsychology of minimalismpsychology of Hello Kittypsychology

31st July 2012

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The Divine Gift of Takamagahara

Takamahagara debuts on the 32nd issue of Shueisha's Weekly Shonen Jump!

For those who have been following Shonen Jump, a new action manga by Juzo Kawai has hit the magazine (both in Japan and America) and it’s called Takamagahara. The story chronicles a young man named Yamato Yamada who suddenly awakens to superpowers that were hidden inside him. Apparently, every individual is born with a “divine gift”, but only a few people can truly unleash it. Yamato has dreams of being a mangaka despite being criticized harshly for his terrible artwork by his peers. Therefore….. 

Yamato Yamada shows off his "divine gift" to a corrupt student.

The concept of the “divine gift” is really interesting as it presents moral dilemmas on how people use their powers. The 2nd chapter showcases a high school student who uses his divine gift to hurt others. I can see why Shueisha is insistent on promoting this manga in the U.S. There are a majority of young people out there that don’t know how to utilize whatever hidden talents they have in a positive manner and/or try to avoid responsibility for some of their actions. 

I’m interested to see where Takamagahara goes from here and this could be a breakout hit because of the many possibilities involving the “divine gifts”. 

Does anyone think Takamagahara is the “divine gift” Shonen Jump is looking for after the end of Naruto and BLEACH? 


Tagged: Juzo KawaiShueisha PublishingTakamagaharaVIZ Mediamangamanga charactermanga psychologypsychologyshonen mangateen psychologyShonen Jump

27th July 2012

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"Freesia" - A Twisted World of Vengeance and Imagination

Hiroshi Kano, the main character of Jiro Matsumoto's "Freesia".

If you’re looking for a crazy, weird, and psychologically thrilling manga to check out, then you might be interested in a title that I think fits what you’re looking for. Some of you may have heard of Jiro Matsumoto through Vertical’s English release of "Velveteen and Mandala" and also his latest manga, Joshi Kouhei, which Hideo Kojima wants to make a game out of. Before those titles and his other works, Matsumoto’s first big title was a psychological thriller manga published in Monthly IKKI Magazine called Freesia. Freesia details a world where getting revenge on people is as easy as 1-2-3.

In the world of Freesia, Japan is suffering from war and a lackluster economy. Criminals are running amok, causing mayhem to innocent citizens. A majority of those citizens crave vengeance against those who have hurt them. Who is there to cater to their wishes? Your local Japanese neighborhood vengeance proxy agencies! These agencies exist because of a law passed that grants people a chance for revenge. One such agency is detailed as three unique individuals join in on the fun. You have Hiroshi Kano, a former military soldier who goes through mental breakdowns and suffers from hallucinations. There’s also Mizoguchi, a “predator” who takes sadistic pride in hunting people down. And finally, you have Ichiro Yamada, a “goody two-shoes” who’s in for the shock of his life. Combine those three men with a mysterious woman named Mariko Higuchi and you have a drama that takes a dark, explicit, and philosophical look at humanity that pulls no punches whatsoever.

Freesia's Hiroshi Kano covered in blood.

While the characters are all pretty interesting, the one who shines is Kano (the main character). It’s kind of funny that the guy who is mentally ill tends to be the most “normal” person in a series. Then again, Kano represents a majority of people that are trying to find a direction in life. He admits that he doesn’t know everything and wants to survive in the chaos surrounding him. The one thing that’s truly frightening about him is his extreme apathy towards others. There is a scene where he witnesses his girlfriend having sex with another man in his apartment and all he says is that they should be quiet since his mother was sleeping. Yup, this man is quite the upstanding citizen, isn’t he?

What drove my curiosity the most regarding the series is the title. Freesia is a type of bulbous plant found in Africa. Why Freesia? Perhaps because of this one trait: the blossoms tend to be beautiful when viewed from above. When you read this manga, you notice that people may look good on the surface. But once you start cracking into the roots and digging beneath the surface, you see ugliness and imperfection. You can say the same thing when you’re in the sky or space and you see how pretty the scenery is below you. Next thing you know, you go back down and see how nasty the environment is. I wonder if Jiro Matsumoto’s message from Freesia is that maybe we need innocence (a symbolic trait of the flower) to preserve our sense of optimism in a world that continues to be cruel.

Freesia Volume 1 Cover.

As one of the first titles to debut on Monthly IKKI back in 2003 and a live-action movie made in 2007, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Freesia published in English in the near-future. Given the reception to Velveteen and Mandala, Freesia is another title that will kick gleeful readers in the gut repeatedly with every volume. I don’t think Jiro Matsumoto would have it any other way. 

To quote the Velveteen and Mandala review on Otaku USA, I guess VIZ Media should be the next “equally gutsy American publisher” to make things happen, right?

You can check out IKKI’s section on Freesia at http://www.ikki-para.com/comix/freesia.html


Tagged: FreesiaHiroshi KanoIKKI ComixJiro MatsumotoMonthly IKKIShogakukanVIZ MediaVelveteen and MandalaVertical Incmangamanga charactermanga psychologymental illnesssymbolism of flowersvengeancepsychology

28th June 2012

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What Is “True Strength”? A Mental Health Lesson Taught By ‘Vagabond’

Miyamoto Musashi takes on the Yoshioka Clan in his most-famous battle to date.

When it comes to Takehiko Inoue’s “Vagabond”, many words come to mind for those who follow it. Amazing. Breathtaking. Vivid. Emotional. For me, one of the most memorable scenes happened around Volumes 26-27 when our main hero, Miyamoto Musashi, takes on 70 members of the once-heralded Yoshioka School. It was a realistic interpretation of one man defining the odds and taking down an army by himself. The emotional impact after the battle became a huge focal point in Musashi’s life. It poses an question that some people should ask themselves: what does it really mean to be strong? 

On one side, you have a wandering warrior who would go on to become Japan’s most-famous swordsman. On the other, you have a school of men who want revenge on that warrior for killing both of their masters. Musashi initially wanted to escape the assault by the Yoshioka School, but decided to fight them all. What occurred was a major event that would become well-known throughout Japan. Musashi looked to be getting a bit too much for what he bargained for because of the strength in numbers, but he begins to enter a mental zone where he’s living on the “sword’s edge”. As the 70 men of Yoshioka fight and fall to their deaths, they develop a newfound respect for Musashi. Musashi is left wondering about his future afterwards as his leg is wounded to the point where he can’t fight again and is possibly forced to forego the path of a swordsman. He also begins to question whether he has grown after taking out the Yoshioka School.

Musashi continues to fight, despite his limitations. From Chapter 270.

Does running around with a sword and killing people count as “strength”? Are humans’ perceptions of strength invalid because some of their teachings incorporate a sense of violence? What does true strength entail? True strength is being able to overcome any unfavorable conditions from the start and reaching the goals that you want to achieve. Unfortunately, people continue to focus on the physical aspects of strength since appearances are everything and we are blasted by constant messages about it. Some folks also tend to manipulate the idea of strength unto others for their own purposes. Being insecure gives people with the wrong ideas an incentive to prey on you. Does being physically fit really make you a better person?

While recuperating, Musashi begins to believe that he has been deluded for 22 years because of his need for battle. Takuan Soho, a monk and close comrade of Musashi’s, even wonders if the katana provides a false sense of security for those who wield it and whether it hinders their true strength. Part of true strength is the ability to gain and retain knowledge. Although it took a long time for Musashi to realize it, knowledge is indeed power and one of the most powerful things in one’s arsenal. It also didn’t hurt that being away from the sword for a brief time made him see things differently as his attachment to the sword could have enhanced his inner demon. You never want to be too attached to something. 

In Volume 32, Musashi confronts Ito Ittosai (a swordsman of great power and strength) and tries to tell him about his realization and that no one is truly unrivaled under heaven. Everyone is the same under heaven’s light. What that means is that physical strength does fade and being mentally strong is what it all comes down to in the end. Though you can argue that being mentally strong can make you unrivaled to a certain degree.

Musashi continues to train while learning in the process.

Musashi’s growth (and continued struggles) from his battle with the Yoshioka School highlights a greater emphasis on the mental aspect of training. As Musashi once said, what will you do when you achieve a certain level of physical strength? You try asking people that question and they may not know how to respond accordingly. Our minds need to be honed since without a sound mind and a firm belief system, our bodies will fall. 

Here’s a quote that I hope will inspire you guys:

Anyone can give up, it’s the easiest thing in the world to do. But to hold it together when everyone else would understand if you fell apart, that’s true strength.

Isn’t it about time that you start exercising your greatest weapon (the brain) and develop the true strength that will get you where you want to be? 

This entry is part of the Takehiko Inoue Manga Movable Feast co-hosted by Anna Neatour of The Manga Report and Michelle Smith of Soliloquy in Blue.


Tagged: Kodansha Weekly MorningManga Movable FeastMiyamoto MusashiTakehiko InoueVIZ MediaVagabondmangamanga charactermanga psychologypsychology of strengthtrue strengthmental healthYoshioka School

25th April 2012

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Being A Leader? All You Need Is A Little Yoshitsune (20th Century Boys)

Yoshitsune of 20th Century Boys as portrayed in the year 2014.

When you think about leaders, you think about how strong and powerful they generally are. However, there comes a point where leaders eventually fall. If the leader was passionate and charismatic, the group without its head often falls into ruin. There are times when someone else decides to step up. Now what happens if the person stepping up isn’t someone who may not look the part, but ends up possibly a person who manages to do a good, possibly even better, job than his/her predecessor. This happens to be quite the case with Yoshitsune, a major supporting character from Naoki Urasawa’s Eisner-Award winning (and once again nominated) “20th Century Boys”. Yoshitsune is someone who makes you believe that we all can be leaders and that we can step up to the task with proper support. 

Yoshitsune’s past involved growing up with a group of kids (including the main protagonist, Kenji Endo) playing “heroes and villains” in Japan during the late 1960s’. The kids playing heroes created a secret base to play at and came up with some ideas/scenarios of villainous acts the kids would overcome. They put the scenarios on a notebook entitled “The Book of Prophecy”. It wasn’t until 1997 that events detailed in “The Book of Prophecy” were brought to life by a mysterious cult leader named the Friend, who happened to be associated with the kids in the past. Kenji, who is appalled at seeing his childhood fantasies become horrible reality, forms a group consisting of the childhood friends he played “heroes and villains” with to stop Friend. Despite not having a tough personality, Yoshitsune sacrificed his normal life to join Kenji. The group took a stand against Friend in 2000, but lost and Kenji went missing. Since then, Yoshitsune became the leader of his own rebel group to continue the fight against Friend. Despite being a leader, Yoshitsune feels that he is not quite adequate to be one.

Yoshitsune as portrayed in the year 2000 when he was a part of Kenji's Group. 

It is very enlightening to see Yoshitsune’s growth from being timid to inspirational. Yoshitsune may not see it, but he has six qualities that make him a great leader

Decisiveness - Yoshitsune stands firm in his decisions to protect the people around him and to discover the truth about Friend. He actually worked as a janitor in enemy territory to rescue people who have been victimized by Friend. 

Competence - Yoshitsune manages to create and maintain his own secret base for his group and provide members with the welcoming-comfort of safety. 

Integrity - Yoshitsune’s followers believe in him and respect whatever he chooses to do. The trust between Yoshitsune and his men is developed because of Yoshitsune’s continued heroics.

Vision - In Volume 12, Yoshistune gave a speech to his followers at a New Year’s party he hosted and proclaimed that in 2015, the goals were to prevent further events detailed in the Book of Prophecy from happening by researching more about the mystery of Friend and to finally end Friend’s reign. 

Modesty - Despite working extremely hard, Yoshitsune feels he isn’t as great a leader as people think he is and will praise others that he feels are better/smarter than him. 

Persistence - For the last 14+ years since 2000, Yoshitsune just kept on fighting against the Friend despite the Friend’s worldwide celebrity status and never gave up hope that the Friend would one day be stopped. 

As Ed Sizemore of Comics Worth Reading pointed out in a review of Volumes 12-13 of the manga, people often confuse charisma with leadership. It doesn’t hurt to have charisma, but it’s not the ultimate solution to being an effective leader. Having a huge sense of focus while being supportive is the best way to go to have a chance of getting people to follow you. 

Yoshitsune (played by Teruyuki Kagawa) and Yukiji Setoguchi (played by Takako Tokida) as portrayed in "20th Century Boys" 2: The Last Hope.

Yoshitsune represents the type of leader who’s not always featured in the spotlight. He’s a leader that doesn’t completely focus so much attention on himself and is more about actually get things down. What’s also special about Yoshitsune is that he chose to lead his own life into a specific path that would help cultivate future leaders. The way Yoshitsune is modest about himself is similar to the way some people believe their efforts aren’t special. We’ve all been through moments where we believe we don’t deserve credit for our efforts, but forget the fact that we tried means something. Trying something is a huge step forward and is something to be really proud of. If you never go out and try, then you might feel even worse and nothing will change.

Need some more motivation? Here’s a quote from Teruyuki Kagawa, the actor for Yoshitsune in the live-action movie adaptation of 20th Century Boys, about the character. 

“Yoshitsune may appear insignificant and may never excel in a working environment, but I think his character evokes an important message about taking responsibility for our own life because each of us is the star of our own lives.” 

We are all leaders, believe it.

This entry is part of the VIZ Signature Imprint Manga Movable Feast. More wonderful articles covering the vast titles under the imprint can be found at the page linked above.


Tagged: 20th Century BoysManga Movable FeastNaoki UrasawaVIZ MediaVIZ Signature SeriesYoshitsunemangamanga psychologypsychology of leadershipleader psychology

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